In the hierarchy of "people who care a little too much about sports," I think that the "college football/basketball recruitnik" has a special (maybe even slightly creepy) place.
I'm not saying that following recruiting as one would follow the regular news is necessarily an unhealthy thing. Say what you will about the accuracy of the "star rating" system of Web sites like rivals.com and scout.com on an individual prospect basis (it's very hit-or-miss), but on the aggregate, the teams that gather the most four- and five-star recruits generally experience the most success on the field. The numbers bear that out. So it is important.
I am just saying that there are limits, and going to the extent of following high school kids on Twitter, trolling high school kids on social media when they don't choose your school, and allowing the whims of a 17-year-old's decision-making process to visibly affect the quality of your day is completely unhealthy.
And, yes, creepy.
Which brings us to our latest chapter in the Zapruder video post box set that I definitely need to assemble and market. It comes from the world of college basketball recruiting.
It's been awhile since the University of Illinois men's basketball program has been highly relevant on the national landscape. Since making the Final Four in 2005 with the Deron Williams/Luther Head/Dee Brown troika, the Illini, under former head coach Bruce Weber for the next seven seasons after that and under current head coach John Groce last season, have made five NCAA tournaments in eight seasons and haven't made it out of the first weekend.
In short, they're just another program in a sea of programs that get swept aside by the big boys by late March. Well, it's John Groce's job to change that, and it starts with -- you guessed it -- recruiting!
Now, meet Cliff Alexander.
Alexander is a 6-foot-8 power forward from Curie High School in the Chicago area. He is one of the top five players in the class of 2014 and exactly the type of player the Illini need to secure to make a run at Big Ten titles and Final Fours. Here are some Alexander highlights:
If I had to put an NBA doppelgänger on Alexander, I'd say he looks like the high school version of the player that the Knicks thought they were getting when they gave Amar'e Stoudemire five years and $100 million. Forceful dunker, freaky athlete, beast. You can see why Illinois would want him so badly.
So last week, as highly rated high school football or basketball prospects are inclined to do, Alexander held a ceremony to announce where he would be playing basketball for the next
four years three years two years year of his life after high school.
Admittedly, I don't follow high school basketball recruiting all that closely, although given how many of these guys go to college for just one season, I probably should, since it's barely a stone's throw from scouting things out for the NBA Draft. I bring this up because I'm just assuming that Illinois thought they had Alexander signed, sealed and delivered, because I see the words "shock," "surprise" and "swerve" tied to Alexander's choice to cast aside the Illini and choose Kansas.
The way that he executed the announcement probably didn't help. Here is Cliff Alexander's ceremony (and no, this is not the video I will be Zapruder-ing. That's coming shortly. Hang with me here...):
Okay, one quick, relevant observation -- Alexander is probably a great kid, seems to be very popular among his classmates (at least the ones who were dancing behind him in Mardi Gras masks and holding up the C-L-I-F-F placards), but there are few things that make me angrier in sports than the high school kid who thinks it's funny to "pump fake" the ball cap ceremony.
In other words, I can't stand when kids have multiple hats in front of them and they reach for one hat (and simultaneously raise the hopes, the mood and the heart rates of the coaches at that school, albeit for three seconds) and then end up putting on a second hat. I think it completely minimizes and spits on the exhaustive time and the tireless effort that the coaches at the jilted school put in to try and lure the kid to their campus. It's immature and insulting, and if I had a kid who did that, I'd be embarrassed.
So to be clear, I think the message the "pump fake" sends to hard-working coaches who finished second in the recruiting race (in this case, Illinois) is deplorable.
That said, I think the effect the "pump fake" had on this room full of students from the University of Illinois is hilarious, and I have no idea if that makes me a bad person, or maybe even "wishy-washy" (right, Ben Tate?). I mean, how can something be so simultaneously insulting and funny? Well, here's how (with Zapruder, finally, to follow):
0:00 -- We have what I am assuming is a dorm room on the University of Illinois' campus, or at the very least an apartment near campus. There are, by my count, at least 16 students in the room and they are all decked out in their Illini gear, and by decked out, I mean decked the hell out. Everything from a Luther Head #4 jersey to Illini Zubaz...well, actually those are both being worn by the same guy, the maniac on the couch who looks like he snorted five lines of coke to celebrate Alexander's announcement.
0:02 -- As long as we are still at the beginning of this deal, let's point out the stars of this video:
ZUBAZ GUY (middle of sofa, as if you couldn't find him): Aforementioned wearer of Luther Head jersey and a walking homage to the latter part of the Lou Henson Era rocking the early 90's tiger stripes. I like to think that Zubaz Guy only pulls out these duds for special occasions, like the Texans on Battle Red Day. This is Zubaz Guy's Battle Red Day!!
FLAT BRIM CRIER: (front row) This dude is in the front row, and sets a record in two categories: 1) most uncomfortable body language gestures in a one minute video and 2) highest emotional investment ever in a high school recruit's decision (everyone else in this room is tied for second).
THE SCREAMER: (middle row, second from left with hat) This guy wants to ravage Cliff Alexander's face with a cheese grater and sock full of throwing stars. He gets PISSED OFF. Also, judging by the number of colored wrist bands on his arm, he is really fond of going to bars, and not at all fond of showering.
Everyone else in this video is just overly emotional window dressing for these three. Make no mistake, these three are the De Niro, Pesci and Liotta of this YouTube clip. Continuing....
0:03 -- This may not be a party, but it's at the very least an organized gathering...for a high school kid who is picking a college. It's slightly embarrassing that this is a reason to gather, and yet I am 1,000 percent certain that if kids were making these announcements on ESPN back in 1991, I not only would be in this room (wearing Zubaz), I would have organized the gathering. I was a dork, so I feel like I can call these people "dorks."
0:04 -- Flat Brim Crier is rocking back and forth like Leo Mazzone in Game 7 of the NLCS. Also, he has his hand tucked into his shirt, kind of a Napoleon thing going on.
0:05 -- As "Mean" Gene Okerlund would say, "Gorilla Monsoon, you can cut the tension in the room with a knife!"
0:06 -- CLARIFYING MOMENT ALERT! Watch the bearded dude in the White Sox sweat jacket sitting in the front row. He puts his hand on FBC's shoulder to brace himself for The Moment, and what does FBC do? He rubs Bearded Guy's hand in an incredibly uncomfortable, borderline "relationship" fashion! Bearded Guy wants none of that, snatches his hand back, but maneuvers his hand back to a comfort zone where there's no contact. My guess here? Bearded Guy has feelings for FBC, but he felt like things were moving a little quickly, and he wants to make sure that FBC loves him for him and that he's not just swept up in the emotions of Cliff Alexander's verbal commitment to the Illini. Just a guess, I may be off...
0:07 -- Zubaz Guy has the same look on his face that Jack Nicholson had in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest right before Chief smothered him with the pillow.
0:23 -- Zubaz Guy has his head in his hands like he's awaiting biopsy results. FBC is stretching the neck on his Illini T-shirt as if the thing is putting a Darth Vader Force choke on him. The Screamer is channeling what he learned in anger management classes...
0:25 -- FBC: (thinking) "I can't decide whether to stretch this shirt or EAT it...please, Cliff, announce....nooowwww...."
0:26 -- Zubaz Guy is shushing everyone, because even though we live in the age of the DVR, there's nothing like hearing it live for the first time. I actually respect that. I would have totally been shushing people back in 1991, but mostly because I'd have to actually rewind a VHS tape and watch it again. That's a lot of work.
0:30 -- Alexander: "...at the University of...." (reaches for Illinois hat) and the room goes from this:
0:31 -- To this:
0:33 -- The carnage:
ZUBAZ GUY: After an adrenaline-fueled 38-inch vertical when he thought Alexander was going to Illinois, ZG's head is back where it started, in his hands. The subtle greatness of ZG's portion of the room is the blond chick next to him who fires off the double birds at Alexander like he just merged into her lane without signaling.
FLAT BRIM CRIER: And NOW we find out why he's called the Flat Brim Crier. Dude looks like the faucets in his face are about to burst, like he had years invested in this announcement and then, BOOM, Alexander double-crossed him. This is how I felt when Larry Zbyszko heel turned on Bruno Sammartino. Of course, I was like nine at the time. FBC is a full-on adult. I can't imagine real-life breakups go very well for him. It's a virtual lock that FBC has made a mix tape for a girl after she broke up with him in an effort to win her back. Hell, he might be making one for Cliff Alexander as you read this!
THE SCREAMER: This is where The Screamer really starts to take over as the star of the show. A mini Zapruder of The Screamer showing off his "cares way too much" game:
0:38 -- Screams "WHAT THE F**K!"
0:41 -- Screamer's Illinois sweatshirt is pinned under the ass of the chick on her iPhone. He yanks it out from under her and screams again, perhaps hoping Cliff Alexander can actually hear him, "WHAT THE F**K, CLIFF!"
0:43 -- "WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?" (Because Cliff Alexander is clearly the one with problems.)
0:54 -- "COME ON!" You people know that Little League parent or youth soccer parent who treats every elementary school game like it's the World Cup? Yeah, in about ten years, The Screamer will be that guy.
1:02 -- "DAMMIT! (With a double-fisted Hulkster flex)
1:21 -- A couple more angry fist gestures from The Screamer, and now all he can do is think of the grudge sex that he will have later with his Cliff Alexander poster.
1:09 -- Amid audio issues, the ESPN studio host attempts to ask Cliff Alexander the question that this whole roomful of Illinois students wants to know: "Why Kansas over Illinois, Cliff?"
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SHOW ME HOW
1:15 -- Zubaz Guy answers for Alexander: "He got paid, that's why." Of course, the only way you say "NO" to Illinois is if they back up the Brinks truck. It had nothing to do with immediate playing time on a team that is a perennial Final Four contender that routinely sends guys to the NBA.
"He got paid." The battle cry of the jilted recruitnik.
And with that, Zubaz Guy, Flat Brim Crier and The Screamer presumably logged onto Twitter so they could tell Cliff Alexander directly what an asshole he is for picking Kansas. Recruiting in the 21st century!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.